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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I have to admit, I found the first part of this book to be rather dull reading, and if I wasn't reading this for research on a book I'm co-writing with a friend, I might have given up! But I stuck it out, and I'm glad I did. Fowler is clever in giving a mock symposium to introduce the development theories of Erickson, Piaget, and Kohlberg. And once he actually gets into his stages of faith development, the book really gets interesting. He provides interesting examples of people at different stages of faith development, and importantly, he does not judge people at the different stages--it would be easy to assume people are "better," or "more faithful" at higher stages. This book helped me understand where I am in my faith development, and helped me see ways I can grow in my own faith. This is not, however, a casual read. It takes quite a bit of concentration, and at times, I found Fowler a little hard to follow, especially at the beginning and the end. Still, I recommend it for anyone who wants to understand their faith journey, whatever faith journey they may be on.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 23, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Shortly after this work was published in 1981 I was engaged in a summer school graduate course on human development at Rollins College. The adjunct professor, an elementary school principal, was highly conversant with the schools and theories discussed by James Fowler in this work at hand. During a break in the ungodly four-hour night class, a student asked the professor if, given the chance to do it over, she would have focused her doctoral efforts in another direction. Without batting an eye, the professor shot back: "Oh yes. Pharmacology." To say that a few somnolent students snapped to attention would be a profound understatement. Her message was clear enough: when studying human development, psychological theory is only one leg of the stool.
"Stages of Faith" is the first and perhaps best known work of James Fowler, who is particularly remembered in Roman Catholic circles for his influence upon the structure and content of religious education programs and study books for the young. Fowler himself appears to have been profoundly influenced by the study of Paul Tillich and particularly Richard Niebuhr, about whom the author would produce another book years later. Fowler credits both theologians for their seminal systematic work on the distinction between personal spiritual experience and cultic religious belief. [I did find Fowler's omission of Rudolf Otto's groundbreaking work on religious experience from his primary sources as curious.]
The scholarly quest for systematic recognition of personal religious experience was a new venture for mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic academics. The established theories of human development-notably Piaget and Erikson-provided theologians with something of a language for further theorizing. But I suspect that Lawrence Kohlberg's appearance on the scene was perhaps the flash point for scholars like Fowler. Kohlberg's stages of moral development looked for all the world liked psychological theology and practically begged theologians of all faiths to recouch their thinking on religious experience and faith in a new developmental and epistemological framework.
This essentially is what "Stages of Faith" tries to do, ponderously at times. Fowler attempts to integrate the thinking of Piaget, Erikson, and Kohlberg and apply this synthesis to the religious journeys of adults, one of whom is chronicled extensively toward the end of this work. I wish he had used several more actual biographies. Despite the fact that subject Mary's roller-coaster life brings spice to an otherwise admittedly dry read, it becomes clear immediately that Mary is not "typical," so that she becomes a poster child for abnormality. She does not integrate or learn from experience [Piaget], she is dreadfully deficient in meeting age appropriate challenges [Erikson], and her moral reasoning is little more than sensory [Kolhberg]. By the end of the interview Tillich and Niebuhr are at best distant memories. Presumably the merits of a marriage between psychology and theology are in its formative possibilities [hence the great interest in Fowler by Catholic educators and catechists, for example], but Mary regrettably is an indicator of what happens when those opportunities are lost. Our biography here has diagnostic value at best.
There is another issue at hand as well, the one raised by my former professor. As I read Mary's case study, I wondered to myself: how would this scattered woman's life be different were she taking Strattera, the new ADD medication for adults? I am not arguing that pills are a panacea, but rather that biology-along with sociology, environment, family structure, economic opportunity, physical or psychological trauma-are critical formative factors in the development of children and adults. In an interdisciplinary study of faith, one must ask just how many disciplines are necessary for a valid synthesis.
I was pleased to discover that Fowler published what is described as a revised edition of "Stages of Faith" under a different title in 1999. I will be curious to see where his thinking and research have taken him over two decades.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered why some people take religious texts literally and others understand them as metaphoric? Ever wondered why some believe that their religion is "the only one" while others view all religions as streams leading to the same ocean?

Ever wondered why everyone seems to start life seeing things in black and white, and while most continue to do so, some people begin seeing in gray or even colors? Why every tradition starts with a list of concrete laws, and then eventually someone comes along and sums them up with one or two -- if his or her listeners will only pay attention? And why some members of the tradition feel more comfortable with the dozens or hundreds while others let them go and embrace the one or two?

Fowler deals in depth with the six stages of faith, moving from the "Mythic-Literal" that we all begin with, explaining why some of us never outgrow it and each successive stage. He then discusses the processes one must move through, which he calls "crises of faith," in order to move from one stage to the next.

He also explains why those in a low level of faith not only cannot understand those at a higher level, but are usually either distrustful, afraid or worshipful (or possibly all three at once) of them, and often pressure them to move back to the lower stage so they will feel more comfortable around them.

This book is helpful to anyone undergoing a crisis of faith or to anyone who is confident in her own faith but is being pressured by old friends or family members to return to a previous religious background.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A daunting book--at times ponderous, at times fascinating. Fowler sets out to define a model of faith stages that applies universally--regardless of religion (or lack thereof), culture, nature, or nurture. In this effort he draws heavily on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget. Giving credit where credit is due, he devotes about 40 pages to a fictional conversation among these eminent psychologists, a conversation which is highly technical but richly textured with subtle but crucial points about thought development that Fowler will use to build his own model of faith stages. Fowler proceeds with a description of these stages of faith, then uses some (much more readable) interviews to illustrate and flesh out his theory. Personally, I found Fowler's introduction the most fascinating part of the book. In it, he explains the distinction among religion, faith and belief in a way that seems obvious yet had never dawned on me.

As for his system of stages, it makes perfect sense, but I don't know how you could prove that it applies to all people in all cases. But even if it doesn't, it provides an extremely useful guide to understanding where you are in your own faith, and where others are and may be heading. For people who are ministering in any type of faith community, or for people who want a deeper understanding of their own faith journey, this book will broaden and sharpen your perspective, provided you have the patience to plow through Fowler's technical and complex prose.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book consolidates aspects of social, cognitive and developmental psychology as it pertains to human growth. One of the most perplexing aspects of growing up and living in the world with others is attempting to understand ones self and WHY people are the way they are. Clear and concise examples are sited for the stages of growth/belief. The WHYS and WHY NOTS of human behavior and BELIEF are illuminated. The research of Piaget, Kohlberg and Erickson are reviewed through simple cross-referenced tables which help to build a cohesive view of mental/psycho/social growth.
One of the finest treatments ever written of why people are the way they are.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I believe that this work and his later "Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian" constitute some of the most important and potentially culture changing works of our time. Some day these works by Fowler will be embraced by more of the church and will aid its effort to help people make progress along their own spiritual journeys.
As I read this book and reflected upon my own life, I sensed a deep resonance with most of the stages of faith that Fowler outlined. The truth of the book was confirmed in remembering my own development. Once this resonance occurs for someone, the greater value of the book will be in discovering what higher levels of faith may lay ahead. At this point the book can serve as an invaluable guide to spiritual growth.
I believe that the real answer to the world's most difficult conflicts is the growing interest in and effort to grow spiritually. When a person grows from egocentric, to ethnocentric, and then eventually to worldcentric awareness and beyond, rather than being a source of dissonance and human confrontation, they become a source of Unconditional Love and Harmony. Fowler's works aid those whose ego-shells have been cracked enough to let in a little light and will help them move toward a greater peace and harmony.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is not a Christian book, nor is it even specifically about religion per se. More simply, it is about how people develop a world view. For a genuine truth seeker , what could be more important than understanding that? This book's great failure is the sometimes tedious and thick writing that make it a little inaccessible to those who SHOULD be reading it: every single pastor and every single therapist, religious or not. I see that most of the reviewers are professors or graduate students. Too bad, because this is too important of a book to be guarded by academia. Though some of the reviewers liked the imaginary symposium between Piaget, Erikson, and Kohlberg, (I did appreciate its novelty) I thought it a little dull.

This is one of the more important books I have read, one, for the better understanding it gave me about human nature, which is my constant craving, and the other is the insight into my own personal nature, another constant craving. It is easy to say 'I'm not perfect and who is?' but it's humbling for that imperfection to be named and described. I experienced a real sense of grief and guilt for the stark proof I am not a Ghandi or St. Paul firmly entrenched in the sixth stage (duh), yet the description of this stage gave me a satisfying humility and a hope because I understand better what I should be reaching for.

Fowler's elucidation that there is more to maturity than cold, intellectual reasoning was, I thought, particularly valuable. Though Fowler's descriptions of the stages were well done and thorough enough, I would have greatly appreciated more vignettes and examples of the various stages. Regardless, this is a profound book and I will continue to review it every once in a while. Thank you, Dr. Fowler.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
For those looking for a book simply on human cognitive development, "Stages of Faith" is not the place to go. For those looking for a book simply on Christian religious development, "Stages of Faith" is not the book to read. However, for those looking for solid research into the stages of working out "meaning" in life, then this is the classic text.

For Christians who have a distaste for research or even an aversion to anything that does not quote chapter and verse, this will be a disappointing book. But for Christians who respect research based upon the Creation Mandate given in Genesis 1, "Stages of Faith" can be seen for what it is: a welcomed attempt to classify, systematize, and outline how, who, and what people trust. This is not a study of religious or Christian faith from a biblical perspective, per se. It is a study of the dynamics of trust from a research psychology perspective.

I find the focus of this work quite helpful in talking with self-described "non-religious," agnostic, or atheistic people who claim they are not faith-oriented. Fowler demonstrates that we all trust something or someone. This should be no surprise to anyone reading the fundamentalist, militant, atheist primers being penned today (and ever-so-popular on Amazon). Life, for all human beings, is progressively centered around entrusting ourselves to someone or something. No one escapes the trust dilemma.

What Piaget, Erikson, and Kohlberg have done in developmental psychology, Fowler does in faith development. This is why I require the text in the class I teach on Counseling Adolescents. Far too many Christian parents practice, and are happy to have their teens practice, less mature levels of faith, never encouraging their children to develop their own personalized faith in Christ. Thus while not written specifically to address specific religious belief, "Stages of Faith" surely has application for everyone's personal spiritual experience. That's why I have also used Fowler's work as a catalyst to examine Scripture to outline a biblical approach that includes four stages of faith, four stages of foolishness, and four stages of wisdom. This "Creation, Fall, and Redemption" approach can then be applied as one way to examine the specifics of individualized spiritual choice.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, and Beyond the Suffering.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you are doubting your faith, if you are unbelieving, if you've been condemned as a "back-slider" or an "infidel," if you never had a belief in the Divine but want to understand the dynamics of faith, this book may be yours to read!

I was first given this book about 18 years ago when I found myself at odds with the faith in which I was reared. I had doubts in high school as I could no longer tolerate the literalism and simplicity of the churches I attended. I lived with the dissonance for several years. Eventually, the dissonance was so unbearable, I sought the help of a counselor.

The counselor heard my doubts and lent me this book. I read that there are different stages of faith. I realized that my doubts stemmed from growth. I realized the conflicts were the conflicts of maturity not of "back-sliding."

Now, as I see young people struggling with their spiritual growth, I talk with them and, if I feel it appropriate, I give them a copy of this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book, written by an obviously well-qualified author, discusses not only the growth of faith in one's spiritual matters, but one's growth in areas other than religion. It relates how and why one's faith that starts in early childhood, grows in definite, measurable time periods throughout our life. Among several questions discussed are: how may one's faith be of sufficient support in times of depression or of personal tragedy without giving in to despair or morbidity, and what can one do to provide an average, respectable level of faith development as one reaches maturity? Faith, as discussed in this book, is not only a matter of one's religious belief, it is more of a quest for a firm belief in life itself. The author writes: "Faith should be believed in more as a verb than as a noun. It must be lived in one's images, values and commitments that guide one's life, providing our life with a firm meaning and value." While I didn't read a rather long word-by-word psychological interview with "Mary", I found the book a valuable guide in helping me in building my own faith.
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